S: Operation Santa / Sikorsky Trip to Alaska
BC: Designed by Amisha Kapadia email@example.com
FC: Operation Santa / Sikorsky Trip to Alaska | Nov 28 to Dec 3, 2010
1: Merry Christmas to Hoonah, Alaska! | Special Thanks to Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and the Alaska National Guard
2: First Night in New York City - Carmines Tom Nicolette, Bill Bertelli, Steve Lavoie, Patti Tesla, and Myself | 11/28/2010
3: Rockefeller Center | Before the Christmas tree was lit.
4: 11/29/2010 | On the way to Anchorage, Alaska
5: Dinner at Humpy's with Cody, Shannon, and Colonel Tim Dehaas
6: 11/30/2010 | Operation Santa Trip Day was canceled last minute due to bad weather in Juneau. | So we met Mr Whitekeys and General Foster and General McManus and went out for breakfast
7: And decided to have a day of Alaska Exploration
9: Sights from the highway
11: Dog Mushing at Moose Meadow Park with Dario Martinez
12: The Wildlife Reserve... | Bald Eagle, Brown Bear, Moose, Reindeer, Elk
13: Owl, Moose, Musk Ox, Black Bear, Buffalo | ...in Anchorage
14: 12/1/2010 | Operation Santa Day
15: Flying to Juneau on a C-130 Plane
16: Riding in a Blackhawk...
17: ...from Juneau to Hoonah, with the Army Guard, Air Guard, Coast Guard, and Governor Sean Parnell and the rest of the Operation Santa Crew.
18: Operation Santa in Hoonah Elementary School
20: Students received books, icecream sundeas...
21: ...non-local treats, and toys from Santa
24: We received tours of the Fort Richardson Army Guard Base and Elmendorf Air Guard Base. | 12/2/2010
26: Game dinner at the Dehaas' home
27: Heading back home - the end of a beautiful trip | 12/2/2010
28: Day 0 Sunday, November 28, 2010 After 1 1/2 months of planning and packing, the time has finally come. I'm going to Alaska. Sarah Culbreth gave me a ride this afternoon to Sikorsky so that I could hop on a CT Limo to NYC at 5 pm with my fellow Alaska voyagers: Steve Lavoie, Patti Tesla, Bill Bertelli, and our coordinator Tom Nicolett. We arrived at the Marriott in Times Square around 7:15pm, quickly dropped off our luggage in our rooms, and then walked to Carmines for a hearty, filling dinner. After stuffing ourselves with the wonderful food at Carmines (and several drinks “on the house” from the waiter), our group set out to explore New York City. In the spirit of the Holidays, we decided to visit the Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center . To our disappointment, the tree had not been lit yet, but the building across the street already donned the snowflakes, and the ice skaters were already tripping over each other, and the crowds had already formed, just to experience “the tree” at Rockefeller. I have been there many times, and each time that I go, I have a different experience. This time I noticed that that the usual array of various countries’ flags had been replaced by the holiday silver and gold flags. And the Rockefeller Building was lit up brighter than I had ever seen before. Day 1 Monday, November 29, 2010 Loooooooooooonnnnnggggg day of traveling today. Woke up at 4:30, left the hotel at 5:30, hopped on a plane to Seattle and then arrived in Alaska 11 hours later at approximately 4pm local time (8 pm CT time). We rented a Yukon SUV and drove to the Sheraton Anchorage where we will spend the next 4 nights. Then, at 6pm local time, we went to dinner with the AK National Guard Colonel Tim Dehaas, his wife Shannon, and his daughter Cody. Shannon runs the Operation Santa program, and both Shannon and Tim will be joining us tomorrow to go to the village of Hoonah. She told us to pray for good weather tomorrow. For dinner, we went to an Alaskan classic bar called Humpys and had the $120 platter which consisted of crab cakes, crab legs, reindeer sausage, and berry crisp dessert, as well as some fried halibut. I have never had ANY of these foods in my life. It was an interesting dinner to say the least. I tried many new things tonight for dinner and I'm proud that I did, but I can already tell that my stomach is not going to be too happy about it... | Daily Journal
29: Day 2 Tuesday, November 30, 2010 We woke up very early this morning and arrived at the National Guard Base at 5:30 am, all ready and excited for our Operation Santa Trip to Hoonah Village. After signing in at the base, I was just about to go through the metal detector for the inspection prior to boarding the plane, and one of the guys got a call that the event was canceled due to bad weather in Juneau. It was heart-breaking. We were all looking so forward to the trip. Fortunately we got to meet some more really nice people while we were at the base (General Chuck Foster, General Deborah McManus, Rich Owens from Tastee-Freeze Ice Cream Shop, the legendary Mr. White Keys, and the man and woman that will be playing Santa and Mrs Clause). We are hoping that the weather will be better tomorrow and that we will get to do it tomorrow. After leaving the base we went to Gwenny's for a delicious breakfast and tried to plan out the remainder of our day now that the original plans were ruined. We all agreed that we wanted to go on a Dogsled Ride. We made reservations at the Visitor's Center in downtown Anchorage (which by the way had a 50% off everything sale going on) and also made reservations to see a near-by wildlife reserve. This all cost me $175 out of my own pocket. The dogsled ride (or dog mushing) was AMAZING. We were led by the world-famous dog musher Dario Martinez who has raced in the 1100 mile Iditarod Race nine times! Although he had some strange things about him (mainly being that his racing dogs were his life and he lived in a miniscule house), he was an Italian charmer and was a memorable part of the experience. He even let us play with some of his puppies. After the mushing, we went the wildlife reserve and saw Moose, Bison, Musk Oxen, Reindeer, Rams, Elks, Brown Bear, Black Bear, Bald Eagle, Owls you name it, we saw it up close and personal. That was also amazing. Then we went out and bought a bunch of souvenirs from the much-talked-about souvenir store, Walmart. Yet another amazing part about today was the scenery we saw from the car, just driving to our destinations. We were weaving around dozens of huge snowy mountains and along a lake or some body of water, and got some amazing shots along the way of the sunrise, sunset, and everything in-between. If I could describe our day in one word, it would be... amazing.
30: Day 3 Wednesday, December 1, 2010 We finally made it to the Operation Santa trip today, and not only did the weather cooperate today, I was actually perfect (that means that although it was a mere 2 degrees outside when we left the hotel this morning at 5:45 am, it was a clear day for flying). We first boarded a C-310 fixed wing aircraft with the Alaska National Air Guard (Air Force) to Juneau. With us were Colonel Tim Dehaas, Shannon Dehaas, Major General Tom Katkus and his wife Jo Katkus, Rich from Tastee-Freeze, Santa and Mrs Clause (don’t know real names), a couple others, and the aircraft crew. It was a 1 1/2 to 2 hr flight and we got some good pictures of the scenery and views of glaciers outside. Once in Juneau, I was surprised to see that there were much many more people going on this Op Santa Trip than I had expected! There was a crew from the Coast Guard flying the Jayhawk, a crew from the Air Guard (Air Force) flying the Pavehawk, and a crew from the Army Guard flying the Blackhawk, L model. There were several General/Colonels' wives that accompanied us, AND to top it all off, the Alaska Governor Sean Parnell and his wife Sally Parnell joined us as well! We all took the helicopters to fly to Hoonah for the event. I was lucky enough to get the gunner's window seat on the ride there on the Blackhawk (thanks to a suggestion by Tom). I was sitting right in front of the Governor and got to do quite a bit of chatting with him while we were flying. (There were 15 people in the Blackhawk total, including the 5 of us, the pilot, Co-pilot Lewis, Crew Chief, Governor Parnell, Sally Parnell, Shannon Dehaas, General Katkus and Jo Katkus, and two others. We were definitely in the VIP helicopter. =) It was an exciting trip with breathtaking views of the mountains and small towns that we passed. We reached Hoonah and immediately began setting up for the event. There were about 120-150 kids there and I spent a majority of my time helping at the Ice Cream Sundae Stand and mingling. Some people that I met that stood out are the teacher Tim, Jay Randell from the Air Guard who was serving the nuts on the sundaes, and Jerry the crew chief from the C-310 (he was not at the event, but stood out overall in the day). Overall I had a really good time and I think it was a very successful event. All the kids and parents and teachers seemed to really enjoy themselves and they were very appreciative. On the helicopter ride back, I took a back seat and Steve Lavoie got the gunners window seat. This time I didn't take any pictures or videos and I really got to soak in the beautiful scenery. The pilot even gave us a little tour of Juneau. The C-310 ride back consisted mostly of sleeping and sharing some home pictures with one another, but to everyone's awe and amazement, Jerry (the crew chief) told us each one by one to go into the cockpit mid-flight and we got to look through night vision goggles and talk to the crew. That was an unbelievable experience. I think I also got lucky because they even opened up the co-pilot seat for me and I got to sit comfortably and chat with the crew while most of the others had to kneel on the floor next to the
31: co-pilot. I still can't believe I was able to do that. I couldn't take any pictures of that experience, but basically when I walked into the cockpit, I could see nothing outside except for pitch black skies. When I put the goggles on, everything lit up in a bright green and I could see every single star and satellite like bright white specks in the sky. I could also see the water and the mountains in the horizon with them. It was just so cool. After arriving back in Anchorage, we went to dinner at a place called The Glaciers Brewhouse with everyone that was on the C-310 (minus the crew). It is really nice to see how grounded and personable and kind everyone is, including the big bad General! People are just so incredibly nice in Alaska! I would say, the words of the day today are breathtaking, awe-inspiring, and "awesome" (quoted from Steve Lavoie). Day 4 Thursday, December 02, 2010 Today was yet another busy day and a very late night. After breakfast at the hotel, we went to the get some tours of the National Guard bases: Fort Richardson for the Army Guard and Elmendorf for the Air Guard. We spoke to units 210, 211, and 212 (not sure which one was which). First we got a briefing from a couple of the Lieutenants, including Lt. Bill Smith from the Army Guard, and we were given a quick tour of the Blackhawk hanger. In the hanger, we saw one of the UH-60L's that rolled over around the time of the Stevenson rescue mission. It was incredible to see how much of the a/c was still intact after the wreck. Bill Smith was actually in that crash when it happened and told me all about it later in the day. All of the crew members walked away with minor injuries and they actually had a Chinook hoist the Blackhawk back to the base upside down, and rolled it back over later on. He told me how much faith he has in our Blackhawk and thanked all of the designers and manufactures and engineers at Sikorsky that made this aircraft that saved his life. Incredible. Next we went to Elmendorf to get a tour and briefing from the Air Guard and the Air Rescue Guard Unit, the Para-Rescue Jumpers. One of the PJ's explained to us the multiple skills, training and variety of missions that the PJ's must all become proficient at. Their building includes training rooms such as a exercise/weight room, a single person pool, a rock-climbing wall, a freefall/jump simulator, a diving simulator, and warehouses FILLED with machinery and equipment that would put a Mission Impossible movie set to shame. These guys really are “supermen”. I had never heard of the PJ units in the past, and rightly so, since there are only about 250 of them in the world.. about 30 in Alaska. It is an elite group of men to say the least (women are not allowed n that unit) and it was definitely impressive.
32: After leaving the base we had a wonderful sushi lunch at the Japanese restaurant Da-Mi, where I accidentally left my purse. It's ok, I did go back and find it... disaster diverted. We spent the rest of the afternoon souvenir shopping downtown. I bought the majority of my souvenirs at the Visitor's Center we found on day one of the trip. For myself, I bought a walrus/mammoth ivory ring and a jade necklace. Finally Tim and Shannon DeHaas invited us over their house for a game dinner” and a Quad-A meeting. All of the Lieutenants in the Army Guard, as well as General Kaktus were in attendance. It was nice seeing everyone outside of their uniforms and again, I was amazed at how nice and hospitable everyone was. Although I did not eat much, some of the interesting foods at the dinner were moose, musk ox, and reindeer, all of which were hunted by either Tim or one of the other Guard men. One of the most special parts of the night was when General Kaktus revealed that he was promoting Colonel Tim Dehaas to General of the Army Guard, and made a few other announcements. What an honor to be hearing this news at the same time as most of his men!! I really treasure that moment and I'm amazed with the fact that these men allowed us to be there for this. Tim and Tom Nicolett even continued to tease me about coming back as a recruit next year to be an aviation pilot - in the middle of their Quad-A meeting!! Another very special moment came at the end of the night when Tim Dehaas presented each one of us with his coin. I believe this is a sign of respect and thanks. I was the first person of the group to get one from him. Day 5 Friday, December 03, 2010 I am on the flight back home the trip is over. I woke up early, packed my stuff, and headed to the airport. This adventure has come to an end. While checking my luggage in, I chatted with the woman at the counter about Operation Santa and what we were doing in Alaska. She told me how much volunteerism means to her and how much she looks up to people who do charity work. Her husband is deceased and she has 4 children that she supports on her own. She was only able to give her kids a happy Christmas last year due to the charity and efforts from her church and pastor. This almost made me cry, and I vow to put more effort into volunteering from now on. The “cherry on top” of the whole trip was when we got off of the plane at our first layover, Tom shook my hand and slipped me one of General Katkus's coin in my hand. The General had meant to surprise us this morning at the airport, but must have missed us. Since he couldn't give us the coins in person, he had the airline stewardess present them to Tom instead. I have the coin of the 2-star General of the Alaskan National Guard. I'm humbled and honored it doesn't get much better than this. A bonus cherry on top was that I as we were landing in Newark airport, I looked into the sky, and there in front of my window was the big dipper, the set of stars that are shown on the Alaska state flag.
33: Letter from the Governor of Alaska
34: Patches from the Soldiers
35: Coins from Colonel Dehaas and General Katkus